Naranja Park was quickly becoming a sloppy, slippery mess Saturday afternoon when Tucson country singer Drew Cooper took the stage.
The bouncy castles and slides set up near the entrance of the Oro Valley Music Festival were deflated once the wind picked up and the clouds threatening in the distance grew darker and more ominous.
“I love Jesus, but I cuss a little,” Cooper sang, and even folks in the audience of nearly 2,000 who had never heard the popular Tucson artist before could relate. Between the rain and the wind and the dark skies, we all considered cussing a little on Saturday.
But it wasn’t as if we hadn’t gotten the weather alerts. Saturday’s daylong rain was forecast days before as remnants of Hurricane Sergio paid the state a wet visit.
So instead of gently pushing and shoving our way to the front of the stage when Cassadee Pope — the first of the Nashville stars to perform on Saturday’s all-country lineup — came on, many of the fans hung back and took refuge in a few giant tents set up in the sprawling park that is the new home to the two-day Oro Valley festival.
“Our original intent was to be a cooling tent; now it’s a dry tent,” said Meritage Homes regional marketing director Sherri Fastrich, whose company furnished its tent with couches and tables with barstools.
The rain was off and on throughout most of the day, delivered in annoying drizzles and unrelenting sheets with a side of gusty wind that had a way of cutting through your wet clothes and chilling you to your bone.
“Rain can’t stop us,” Pope shouted out as a small and growing group of fans huddled close to the stage.
With each song she sang, from her hit “Wasting All These Tears” to a cover of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” Pope became as soaked as the fans standing in the sopping lawn.
“Oh my gosh you are some big country fans, standing out there in the rain,” she said, and not far away, James Thornton, dressed in a blue plastic rain poncho he got from the Geico vendor when he got to the festival, was all smiles.
Thornton said he’d never been to a country concert before Saturday and would not have gone had his wife, who works for Tucson Federal Credit Union, not had to be there as part of her marketing job.
Thornton admitted that after hearing the music performed live, he could come to like country music. If nothing else, he admired country music fans.
“I like that it’s raining out here and people are still coming out and showing support,” said Thornton, who serves in the Air Force at Davis-Monthan.
The rain also didn’t dampen the spirits of Joe and Sonia Walka, who brought along their children and three young grandchildren to the rainy festival. Sonia held a bundled-up 4-month-old Allium in her arms as the family made its way closer to the stage just as the brother act High Valley was about to take the stage.
“We knew it was going to rain, but we were still coming,” Joe said.